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Laminitis in horses 101: Key information for all horse owners

Laminitis in horses is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that affects the hooves. Essentially, it is the inflammation of the laminae, the tissue that connects the hoof wall to the pedal bone inside the hoof. There are a few common causes of laminitis, and early warning signs that, when you know what to look for, enable you to take action before things get really bad. In this article we show you how to recognise laminitis, and what you can do to prevent it.

Laminitis in horses hoof

Causes of laminitis in horses

Laminitis can result from a variety of factors, often linked to the horse's diet, lifestyle, and overall health. Let's start by talking about the most common cause of laminitis: the diet.

The diet

The most common cause of laminitis is the horse's diet. Excessive sugars and starches, either in the horse's hard feed or pasture (or both!), can lead to inflammation in the laminae. This can happen fairly quickly too - some horses only need an hour or two on lush spring grass, and straight away you can feel a digital pulse in their feet.

Herd of horses grazing in the wild.

Keep in mind that horses, whilst grazing animals, are not designed to graze on the kind of high-sugar, lush grass that most modern pastures are full of. In the wild they would travel great distances, looking for and nibbling on tough grasses, various plants, roots and lots more, whilst moving between food and water sources almost constantly. This is very different from the modern domesticated horses' living environment, and that is causing issues for many horses.

Other causes of laminitis in horses

There are other causes of laminitis too, such as stress and trauma, that can cause supporting limb laminitis, for example. Wormers can also cause the laminae to become inflamed, as can ingesting certain toxins, such as black walnut shavings. Overweight horses are at a higher risk of laminitis, due to the excessive strain on their hooves.

Early warning signs of laminitis

Lameness, heat in the hoof and raised digital pulses are some of the early warning signs of laminitis in horses. All three normally only happen in the hoof that is affected, so it can be just in one hoof, or more.

Laminitic hoof with event lines on the hoof wall.

Another sure tell-tale sign of inflammation in the laminae ( and this can happen even before any of the above mentioned things) is a "puffy" coronet band, leading to an event line as the hoof grows. When the laminae gets inflamed, the coronet band raises up. On a healthy hoof, the coronet band should be a smooth transition between the hairy leg and the hoof wall. If you slide your finger over the area and feel a distinct bump over the coronet band, that tells you that there's at least a low level of inflammation going on - this is the time to take action, not later!

Event lines on the hoof are proof of historical inflammation in the hoof. Since the hoof grows approximately 10mm a month, you can date the inflammation by measuring how far down the highest ring is from the coronet band. If it's 20mm down, that means the laminitic episode was approximately 2 months ago.

Consequences of untreated laminitis

If laminitis is not treated promptly, it can cause the horse chronic pain and irreversible changes in the internal hoof. Laminitis causes the soles to become thin, and pedal bone to rotate inside the hoof capsule; these two combined can lead to the pedal bone piercing through the sole, which is incredibly painful for the horse and an extremely serious situation that requires careful and knowledgeable care.

Top tips for treating laminitis

If you suspect your horse has laminitis, you should immediately review their diet and reduce their combined sugar and starch intake to an absolute minimum. The recommended amount is under 10%.

Some people will tell you that the horse needs to be in box rest and immobile, but keep in mind that movement is vitally important for proper hoof function and blood circulation in the hooves - and blood circulation is crucial for healing. Therefore most barefoot hoof care professionals (including us) will recommend that you do this instead:

  1. Trim the hooves anatomically correctly, to promote proper alignment and healing.

  2. Use hoof boots that offer plenty of cushioning. Add soft pads into the boots for added comfort.

  3. Allow the horse free movement, but so that the horse can choose how much or little to move. This means that you don't separate food and water miles away from each other, but likewise, you don't turn the horse out in a small pen where it can't really move at all.

Two horses eating hay from a hay feeder in a grass free paddock.


Laminitis in horses is a serious condition that requires vigilant care. The sooner your recognise the early signs of laminitis and take action, the better. Providing your horse with low-sugar diet and correct hoof care are keys to preventing and fixing laminitis.


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